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What Is a Hepatitis B Viral Load?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Hepatitis B viral load is a medical measurement used to determine the amount of virus particles in a given amount of bodily fluid. The test is performed to gauge the progression of hepatitis B. Determining the hepatitis B viral load allows doctors to better treat patients, especially in the cases where hepatitis B causes serious symptoms. If hepatitis B becomes chronic, routine viral load tests give doctors the ability to mitigate side effects such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that afflicts the liver. The virus is passed through exposure to blood of an infected person. Initial symptoms include loss of appetite, jaundice and vomiting. In many cases, a patient never realizes he or she is suffering from a serious illness. After diagnosis, determining hepatitis B viral load is crucial to maintaining a patient's quality of life.

Determining hepatitis B viral load is a routine medical procedure. After a nurse or doctor takes blood from the patient, the blood is separated into plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets through the use of a centrifuge. The viral load is quantified as the number of virus particles per milliliter of blood plasma. By determining the amount of virus particles within the patient's body, a physician can give an appropriate prognosis and develop treatment options for the patient.

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In the majority of cases, the virus clears up on its own within a month of infection. In these cases, the virus is known as self-limiting. The patients suffer no permanent side effects.

In other cases though, especially when the patient is a child, the virus is long-standing, also known as chronic hepatitis B. The virus reactivates in cycles, more so if the patient has an oppressed immune system through either chemotherapy or HIV. A hepatitis B viral load test is performed for patients with both types of hepatitis B. The test can determine whether the virus has run its course for good or is just in temporary remission.

Patients with long-standing hepatitis B are those most at risk for liver cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. There are seven major medications available to limit the virus' replication. These medications are known as interferon, artificial versions of the virus-fighting proteins the body produces naturally. Determining the hepatitis B viral load is a valuable tool in choosing the right medication. With proper treatment, a patient can expect to maintain a healthy liver for years if not decades.

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